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Syracuse men’s basketball: what to watch for vs North Carolina

It’s a ‘Cuse versus Chapel Hill thriller in the Dome.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a big battle tonight between the Syracuse Orange (13-7, 6-3) and North Carolina Tar Heels (14-6, 6-3).

For the Orange, it’s an opportunity to get their first big win and show that the improved play of late isn’t just a mirage. This game will also keep the winner in range of the top of the ACC while the loser will drop three games behind the Clemson Tigers.

Last year these teams played an OT thriller; can they match it again? Here’s what to watch for in the game between Syracuse and North Carolina:

Dom: The battle of the bigs

Tuesday night’s game will be a true battle between two of the ACC’s best big men. Jesse Edwards (13.9 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 2.8 BPG, and 59% shooting) continues to excel on both ends of the court with his shot-blocking and one-on-one finishing at the rim, but he’ll have his work cut out for him against UNC’s Armando Bacot (17.8 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 1.1 BPG, and 58% shooting). Bacot is a tremendous athlete who could get Edwards into early foul trouble. It’ll be interesting to see how Edwards holds up, and if Mounir Hima or one of the forwards could step up for the Orange with rebounding and preventing UNC from getting extra scoring opportunities.

Kevin: Patience on offense

This Carolina team is winning on the defensive end. They are defending the three-point line and limiting 2nd chance opportunities. Syracuse has looked better on offense lately as they have been willing to move the ball and take what the defense is giving them. I’d expect Carolina to use Caleb Love and Leaky Black on Joe Girard which means it’s up to the other Syracuse players to move the ball and themselves to get good shots.

Christian: Watch the big guy

You might think this is about Armando Bacot, and while that is the obvious problem on UNC, there’s another big guy problem. Pete Nance has transferred into Chapel Hill, and he can stretch the Syracuse zone. He doesn’t take a high volume of threes, but we seen this season that teams aren’t afraid to drastically increase the frequency of long-range shots. UNC isn’t going to pull out an advantage if RJ Davis is the only Tar Heel shooting threes. Nance can play Brady Manek’s role from last season by sitting in the corner to jack up a corner shot. At the same time, Nance can support Bacot if he gets too much attention. He’s a matchup nightmare for the Orange.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Mike: Pick our poison

Although they’ve struggled at points this season, UNC will still present a difficult challenge. The Tar Heels are the best shooting team in the conference, they draw the most fouls by a country mile (a whole FIVE more free throws taken per game than the next team), and they collect the most rebounds on the defensive end. All that put together likely means SU needs a big day from distance. If the Orange don’t get sharpshooting from JGIII early and often, coupled with enough scoring from Judah and Jesse to keep them honest, this game could make up for the late start by being effectively over well before the final buzzer.

Szuba: Bacot vs. Edwards

It’ll be a battle of the two best bigs in the ACC as Bacot is coming off an 18-rebound performance against NC State while Edwards trials only the UNC big in rebounding. While Edwards won’t be matched up against Bacot in the zone, expect these two to clash down low. Edwards will need to avoid foul trouble and he’ll need to score to keep Syracuse competitive. Whoever gets the better of this matchup has a good chance of winning the game.

That’s what we’re watching for, now it’s your turn.